Saturday, July 25, 2009

Playing Chicken

In a moment of high drama, offering a symbolic gesture to his supporters, as well as taunting his adversaries with a game of “chicken,” Zelaya and his entourage gathered near the Nicaraguan border where he briefly stepped over into Honduras on Friday evening. Then he stepped right back. The man is a real showman.

Of course, I know just where he was, having been there. These small, dusty towns on either side of the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, lacking amenities and with an unsophisticated population, are seeing a sudden surprise uptick in business and worldwide attention. I wonder if any reporters there are getting "Lempira's revenge" (the Honduran version of Mexico's "Montezuma's revenge) or finding their Blackberries don't work?

All I can say is, thank goodness that Zelaya stepped back across the border. God forbid that anything should happen to him. His injury, arrest, or any apparent attempt on his life could indeed trigger a civil war. El Tiempo Latino, a DC Spanish-language newspaper, quotes Zelaya as saying: “The civil war has now started.” Parodying Garcia Marquez, the article is headlined “Honduras: cronica de un retorno anunuciado,” (chronicle of a return foretold). Even the OAS’s Insulza, a strong Zelaya supporter, has warned that his return right now would be “hasty” (apresurado).

At the same time, another Spanish-language newspaper, Washington Hispanic, reports that Daniel Ortega is seeking to change the Nicaraguan constitution so he can run again, and that it has been revealed that Colombia’s rebel FARC movement contributed substantially to the campaign of current Ecuadorian President Correa. So the battle lines have been drawn in Latin America and the interim Honduran government is not totally paranoid to suspect the worst from Zelaya and his president pals in other countries. Meanwhile, Obama is trying mightily to stay above the fray to avoid triggering further polarization and an anti-US backlash. Uncle Sam no longer is trying to dominate the hemisphere, instead striving to reach consensus with its neighbors and demonstrating a spirit of compromise.

The problem is that now, apparently, Arias has bowed out as mediator in frustration. Where will movement come from now, unless either or both parties come back to him with a new proposal? Meanwhile, Zelaya remains outside Honduras and the interim government is squeezed even harder economically. No one could have made up a quirkier tale about a banana republic, which Honduras certainly is. I would hope the citizenry and leaders on both sides would learn something from this whole experience, maybe take a longer, more mature, and less impulsive, immediately self-interested view. But that may be wishful thinking.

From my Venezuelan human-rights advocate living in Caracas comes a comment on yesterday’s Washington Post editorial as to why the OAS, and especially Insulza, has excoriated and expelled the Honduran interim government for deposing Zelaya, but is mum about three elected leaders in Venezuela, including the mayor of Caracas, deposed by Chavez. She declares: Ese articulo es exactamente lo que muchos nos preguntamos. That article says exactly what many of us are asking ourselves.

Re the lack of free speech in Venezuela see
Spike Lee defends free speech on Venezuela visit


I sent this link to my Venezuelan friend above and she reported there was nothing in their press at all about Spike Lee’s speech.

Another e-mailer says this about Zelaya’s momentary incursion in Honduras:
The Wall St. Journal this morning reports that Zelaya walked across the border, physically lifted the chain separating Honduras and Nicaragua, walked a few feet into Honduras, heavily guarded, spoke briefly, and walked back to Nicaragua. Huh? & he said, "I am strong, I do not fear, but I know that I am in danger. Do not aim your rifles.” These are not the words or the actions of a strong, brave man. On learning of this, Castro must have rolled over in bed and shut his eyes.

Of course, there is no unanimity of opinion. Opinion here in the US is polarized and even more so in Honduras, where there is direct impact on people’s lives, which makes resolution extremely problematic. Where is the middle ground? Either Zelaya returns or he does not; it’s like being a little bit pregnant. I agree with the following commentator that 70% of Hondurans are poor.

From a US correspondent: After the OAS and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, entered into intense negotiations for several days with the leader of the coup that violently overthrew President Zelaya in the middle of the night, urging the reinstatement of the democratically elected President Zelaya, said negotiations were ended because the coup leader(s) would not cooperate. President Zelaya thus decided to try to cross the border into Honduras from Nicaragua.

Thousands of his supporters were there to jubilantly welcome him, but hundreds of armed soldiers were forcing them away from the crossing site, so President Zelaya decided to not cross so as to avoid violence and bloodshed.

The Statement our Secretary of State made today with respect to this outrage was that the President of Honduras was “reckless” and that he should have “negotiated” his reinstatement. This statement by our Secretary of State is truly reckless and reveals something worse than a Secretary of State being just out of touch. This is a stunningly irresponsible statement as it blames the victim of a coup that was carried out by an anti-democratic leader(s) of a wealthy, rightist clique that rules over a population that is 70% below the poverty level, a population that finally was celebrating the election of a decent man of conscience who was beginning to usher in a new era of hope based on social and economical justice.

Miami Herald
headline—Zelaya at the border. Friday, 7-24-09

Ousted Honduran leader steps briefly into homeland
By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press 7-24-09

EL PARAISO, Honduras – Ousted President Manuel Zelaya took a symbolic step into his homeland Friday, vowing to reclaim his post a month after soldiers flew him into exile. But he stayed only briefly before returning to Nicaragua, saying the risk of bloodshed was too great. He said he would give talks with the coup-installed government another try. "I am not afraid but I'm not crazy either," Zelaya told the Venezuela-based television network Telesur. "There could be violence and I don't want to be the cause."

Shortly before Zelaya's crossing, his supporters clashed with soldiers and police nearby after the government ordered everyone off the streets along the 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) border with Nicaragua in a noon-to-dawn curfew. Police said one demonstrator was slightly injured. Wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, Zelaya walked up to a sign reading "Welcome to Honduras" and smiled to cheering supporters at the remote mountain pass surrounded by banana trees.

He stopped a few steps into Honduran territory, speaking to nearby military officials on his mobile phone. "I've spoken to the colonel and he told me I could not cross the border," Zelaya said. "I told him I could cross." But he soon returned to Nicaragua and said he was ready to return to the negotiating table. "The best thing is to reach an understanding that respects the will of the people," Zelaya said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Zelaya's efforts to return "reckless." International leaders had urged Zelaya not to go home without an agreement out of fear it would lead to bloodshed. Zelaya had said he had no choice after U.S.-backed talks with his ousters failed to reinstate him.

The interim government has insisted it will arrest Zelaya once he returns, ignoring threats of sanctions from nations worldwide if he is not reinstated. Soldiers formed a human chain near the border crossing Friday but did not move to approach Zelaya. In a statement, the interim government of Roberto Micheletti said it too still believes in negotiations. Its deputy foreign minister, Marta Alvarado, accused Zelaya of seeking "subversion and a bloodbath."

Zelaya said his reinstatement is necessary to preserve democracy and prevent coups, not only in Honduras but across a region that has seen many in its turbulent political history. "The people of Latin America and the world have been losing their rights," Zelaya said. Thousands of Zelaya opponents demonstrated in San Pedro Sula, the country's second-largest city.

An equal number of supporters flocked to the border to support Zelaya's return, and soldiers manned checkpoints on highways leading to the border area to prevent them from getting to El Paraiso. Some made their way on foot after bus drivers refused to risk the trip. The government said the border curfew was intended to preserve the peace, but by late afternoon authorities did not appear to be enforcing it.
All governments in the Western Hemisphere have condemned the coup, in which soldiers acting on orders from Congress and the Supreme Court arrested Zelaya and flew him into exile. Nations on both sides of the political spectrum say Zelaya's return to power is crucial to the region's stability.

But Washington and the Organization of American States have asked Zelaya to be patient and not return on his own, fearing it would plunge the country into chaos. "President Zelaya's effort to reach the border is reckless," Clinton said in Washington. She said it would not help restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras.

An initial attempt to fly home on July 5 was frustrated when officials blocked the runway of the Honduran capital's airport. Honduras' Supreme Court ordered Zelaya's arrest before the coup because he ignored court orders to drop plans for a referendum on whether to form a constitutional assembly. The military decided to send Zelaya into exile instead.

The negotiations stalled after neither side accepted a proposal from Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the chief mediator. Arias called for Zelaya's reinstatement, amnesty for the coup leaders and early elections.

Zelaya briefly steps into Honduras _ now what?

Associated Press
Saturday, July 25, 2009 4:29 AM

OCOTAL, Nicaragua -- Ousted President Manuel Zelaya stood on the edge of his country and called on his fellow Hondurans to resist the coup-installed government. Then he quickly retreated back to Nicaraguan territory, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed and give negotiations another try.

His foray Friday brought the Honduran political crisis no closer to a resolution - and irritated some foreign leaders who are trying to help Zelaya reclaim his post. Still, his brief but dramatic excursion a few feet into his homeland kept up the pressure on the interim government and the international community, highlighting the threat of unrest if the two sides cannot resolve the crisis through negotiations.
Thousands of Hondurans flocked to the border town of El Paraiso to support Zelaya when he planted his cowboy boots on home soil for less than 30 minutes. Defying a curfew, the demonstrators clashed with security forces who fired tear gas. Shaded by his white cowboy hat, Zelaya encouraged them, saying protesters facing tear gas should "grab the canister and throw it back." He warned security forces they would pay for obeying the regime that sent him into exile: "You are risking your careers as police and soldiers."

Many miles away in the northern Honduras city of San Pedro Sula, thousands of Zelaya opponents staged their own protest, holding signs reading "Zelaya can return, but to jail."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Zelaya's trip "reckless" and said it would not help restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras. Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza had urged Zelaya not to go home without an agreement out of fear it would lead to bloodshed.
Zelaya, a rich rancher who moved to the left and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after being elected, said he had no choice after U.S.-backed talks failed to reinstate him. He insisted his lightning trip showed the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti was losing control and would be forced to negotiate."It's clear they cannot govern with the people against them and a president in exile," Zelaya told reporters. "The best thing is to reach an agreement that respects the sovereign will of the people." But it was unclear who would take the lead in bringing the two sides back to the table.

Zelaya, who was spending the night in the northern Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, declined to discuss what he would do next, although he reminded reporters that he had cars and planes available for another attempt to return home.
The previous mediator, Costan Rican President Oscar Arias, bowed out this week after presenting a final proposal that would restore Zelaya to the presidency and offer amnesty to the coup leaders. While insisting it still believes in dialogue, the interim government has refused any pact that would reinstate Zelaya, ignoring threats of sanctions from the United States and other nations.

Zelaya called for tougher action from the United States, Honduras' biggest trade partner and its source of aid. Washington has already suspended more than $18 million in military and development assistance. The European Union has frozen $92 million in development aid. U.S. pressure "has been limited. Its measures have not been effective," Zelaya said. "There is a de facto regime ruling with bayonets, and in that sense, the United States has told me they want a peaceful solution. I'm also looking for a peaceful solution."

The interim government insisted it would arrest Zelaya once he returns, but soldiers near the remote mountain border crossing Friday did not move to approach him. Interim Deputy Security Minister Mario Perdomo told The Associated Press that authorities didn't bother to arrest Zelaya because he barely entered Honduras. "Zelaya made a show of entering Honduras: He put one foot in, and left," Perdomo said. "And he did this in a dead zone of the frontier, which we tolerated."
Micheletti called Zelaya's trip "an irresponsible act, ill-conceived and silly."
All governments in the Western Hemisphere have condemned the coup, in which soldiers acting on orders from Honduras' Congress and the Supreme Court arrested Zelaya on June 28 and flew him into exile. Nations on both sides of the political spectrum say Zelaya's return to power is crucial to the region's stability. The Supreme Court ordered Zelaya's arrest before the coup because he ignored court orders to drop plans for a referendum on whether to form a constitutional assembly. The military decided to send Zelaya into exile instead.

Zelaya, whose terms ends in January, said his reinstatement is necessary to preserve democracy and prevent coups, not only in Honduras but across a region that has seen many in its turbulent political history. "My presence here tells the world not to forget about an oppressed nation," he said.

Inflaming Honduras [article online, scheduled in Sunday edition]
By Edward Schumacher-Matos
Sunday, July 26, 2009, Washington Post

The tiny country of Honduras is providing a lesson in humility on the frailty of democracy and the limits in making it work. The secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, hasn't listened and may soon lose his job. He deserves to.

Honduras's de facto government has been surprisingly hardheaded in defying the OAS, the Obama administration and most world governments by refusing to allow the return of Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, who is threatening to try by force. Central America could be thrust back into war.

It's a crisis that should never have happened. In the weeks before Zelaya's ouster, American diplomats behind the scenes tried to encourage moderation as the Honduran president sought recklessly to push through a constitutional referendum that might lead to his reelection. The Supreme Court, the National Congress, the president's own attorney general, the human rights ombudsman and the electoral commission all ruled that the referendum violated the constitution, which clearly outlaws even consideration of a presidential reelection.

Then, the OAS sent in three election observers. Their very presence gave legitimacy to Zelaya's efforts. The Congress asked the OAS mission to leave; it didn't. Empowered, Zelaya then resorted to mob rule by sending supporters to invade a military base and seize the ballots that the electoral commission refused to distribute. The Supreme Court ordered the army to arrest the president. The army did so and sent him into exile.

Insulza then further inflamed the situation by emotionally declaring the ouster a military coup -- "rape," he called it -- and leading an unconditional charge to restore the president. He went so far as to fly in an escort plane as Zelaya tried to return to the country -- an attempt that set off riots at the Tegucigalpa airport and led to the only death in the crisis.

Upset by Insulza's lack of judgment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bypassed him to ask Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to mediate between the two Honduran sides. Insulza is Chilean, and Chilean government sources say that Clinton has informed them that the Obama administration will not support Insulza's reelection as secretary general when his term is up next year.

Clinton was equally angered by his role in lifting the expulsion of Cuba from the OAS. He was correct in arguing that the Cold War resolution expelling Cuba was no longer valid, but the Americans felt he was less than vigorous in helping draw the democratic lines Cuba must cross to rejoin the organization.

Some conservative critics see ulterior motives. They accuse Insulza of being leftist and pandering for the bloc of OAS reelection votes led by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, chief supporter of Zelaya and the Castro brothers. Insulza certainly has backed away from his activism two years ago defending press freedom in Venezuela and has been largely silent as freedoms erode there and in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
I don't know what is in Insulza's heart, but I am more generous toward him. I have known him as a dedicated, sometimes shrewd public servant and democrat. He is limited by the need for consensus among the 34 members of the OAS and, it seems, by the trauma of the bloody military coup by Augusto Pinochet in his own country 36 years ago. He couldn't see that Honduras was different.

The outdated OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter, meanwhile, is designed to prevent coups, but it restricts the OAS from getting involved in internal maneuvers such as packing courts and gutting opposition parties under democratic guise that are the bigger threat in the region today. The OAS, moreover, is a presidents club. Congresses and courts aren't represented. Presidents tend to be more sympathetic toward reelection and the use of measures such as plebiscites to expand their power.
None of that excuses the harm that Insulza himself has done in Honduras. He has shown no respect for its constitution or institutions. He has been tone-deaf to the need for trust and legitimacy for democracy to work.

Hondurans are right to worry that Zelaya, even if returned in a national unity government, will resort to more demagoguery, as Chávez did after he was temporarily ousted in a 2002 coup. What Insulza should be doing, but isn't, is searching for formulas that allow all the pieces to be put together again in a way that protects real democracy in Honduras and the hemisphere. [The writer is a Colombian-born former NYTimes and Wall St J reporter now CEO of Meximerica Media, Inc.]

No comments: